Armenia May No Longer Follow U.S. Lead on Some Issues After Aid Cut-off
For more than a year, Armenia’s leaders have been operating under the false impression that accommodating Washington on some issues would provide economic and political benefits, shield them from accusations of democratic shortcomings, and convince the West not to support their domestic opponents.
Based on such wishful thinking, the Armenian government made repeated efforts to please the United States. For example, last year, when Marie Yovanovitch was nominated by Pres. Bush to become the next Ambassador to Armenia, State Department officials asked Armenia to use its contacts in Washington in order to facilitate her confirmation by the U.S. Senate. They feared that she would suffer the same fate as her predecessor, Richard Hoagland, whose nomination had been blocked by the Senate at the urging of the Armenian-American community. The Armenian government obliged, probably hoping that the new Ambassador and the United States would reciprocate by showing goodwill towards Yerevan on certain critical issues.
Another issue on which Armenia went to great lengths to accommodate Washington was engaging in negotiations with its historic arch-enemy Turkey in order to open the border and establish diplomatic relations. While Yerevan believed that doing so was also in its own best interest, U.S. officials were the driving force behind these negotiations, particularly after it became apparent that the Turkish government had no interest in carrying out honest discussions with Armenia and no intention of opening the border. Both Turkey and the United States benefited greatly from the false impression created by these negotiations. Turkey managed to undermine Pres. Obama’s campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide on April 24. In return, Washington was able to secure Turkey’s commitment to support U.S. policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Armenia, on the other hand, received no tangible benefits. In fact, its repeated optimistic pronouncements regarding the progress of the negotiations helped both Turkey and the United States to look good in the eyes of the world. Besides not gaining anything, the Armenian government jeopardized the support of its powerful Diaspora and large segments of its own population. Furthermore, the ARF -- one of the four parties constituting the Armenian government -- left the ruling coalition following a joint public announcement by Armenia and Turkey on the eve of April 24. Pres. Obama cited the supposed progress made in Armenian-Turkish negotiations in his April 24 statement in order to avoid making an explicit reference to the Armenian Genocide.
It is now clear to the Armenian government that Washington had no intention of accommodating Armenia either on economic and political matters or on its democratic shortcomings. The amount of foreign aid recently proposed by the Obama Administration for Armenia is 38% less than last year's. Another U.S. aid program, provided by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), was reduced by almost one third -- $67 million -- citing the country’s failure to comply with its eligibility criteria. The MCC bases its aid decision on 16 different indicators which recipient countries are committed to uphold.
It is distressing that such standards have to be imposed on Armenia by a foreign country. Raising the living standards of the population is in the Armenian people’s own interest. It is the obligation of the Armenian government to make such improvements, without waiting to do so, under the threat of losing foreign aid.
The most immediate impact of the cancellation of the MCC’s rural road program will be felt by Armenia’s destitute farmers who need an improved infrastructure to grow, transport and sell their produce.
It is not known what direction Armenia’s leaders will follow as a result of the above setbacks. Will they strive to improve their compliance with the MCC criteria or will they completely give up on that program?
This latest development may have far reaching and unintended consequences beyond Armenia’s farmers. Armenia’s leaders may conclude that catering to the U.S. is going to neither provide a cover for the regime’s shortcomings in the area of democratic governance nor result in any tangible benefits to the country in terms of opening the border with Turkey.
The negotiations with Turkey, already stalled due to unacceptable pre-conditions advanced by Ankara, may now be completely disrupted.
The Armenian government may formally abandon its nominal policy of complementarity between east and west and rely more heavily than ever before on Russia and Iran.
Finally, it is unfortunate that the MCC decision comes on the eve of Amb. Yovanovitch’s first trip to Armenian communities in the United States, later this month. During her visit, she is likely to encounter public resentment that the U.S. government is practicing a double-standard by lowering proposed foreign aid levels to Armenia and increasing those of Azerbaijan which enjoys huge oil revenues and is in no need of U.S. handouts. There is also a double-standard vis-à-vis Georgia, as the latter remains the recipient of MCC aid despite its lack of compliance with several MCC criteria.
Amb. Yovanovitch may also face criticism from large segments of the Armenian-American community, given Pres. Obama's failure to keep his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide. This is not the Ambassador’s fault. However, given the fact that she represents the United States, she will automatically become the target of all criticism directed at the Obama Administration.